Members of the quick response and recovery team of the Office of Civil Defense in Legazpi, Albay put on gas masks and HazMat suits in preparation for deployment to Catanduanes, one of the provinces on alert for possible debris from the North Korean rocket.  (Photo by Edd Gumban)

MANILA — Cities and towns across Luzon — including Metro Manila — are on standby for possible evacuation in case a rocket launch being readied by North Korea goes awry and rains debris on the Philippines.

“All local government units in Luzon were asked to come up with plans in the event that the debris falls in their area of jurisdiction. These include identifying food assistance, evacuation and medical contingency,” said Allan Tabell, a director of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and liaison to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

“(DILG) Secretary (Jesse) Robredo has ordered all governors and mayors in northeastern Luzon, including Bicol to prepare contingency plans. We are talking about practically the entire Luzon,” Tabell said in a press briefing.

“There’s a possibility of mass casualty,” the DILG official said.

“If it (debris) falls on a populated area, there is a possibility of suffering casualties. That is what we are preparing for. Walang kapalit ang paghahanda (There’s no substitute for preparedness),” he added.

Tabell could not tell how many evacuation centers would be set up.

He nevertheless said it is presumed that each town or city has at least one evacuation center.

There are about 400 municipalities and cities in Luzon.

NDRRMC executive director Benito Ramos said it would be up to the local governments to decide whether to conduct preemptive evacuation.

Ramos said even local governments in Metro Manila should come up with contingency measures.

Ramos said there is a “hairline difference” between Metro Manila and Polilio Island in Quezon, which is near the rocket’s path.

“The 150 nautical miles east of Polilio Island is adjacent to Metro Manila. There is a hairline difference. I’m not discounting the possibility (that the debris will hit Metro Manila),” he said.

Earlier, North Korea bared plans to launch a rocket — purportedly to place a satellite in orbit — sometime on April 12 to 16.

The rocket is scheduled to be launched at 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. (Philippine time).

The launch was also part of the celebration of the 100th birth anniversary of North Korea’s founding president Kim Il-Sung, which falls on April 15.

The United States and other countries suspect that the launch is a disguised long-range missile test — a violation of the ban imposed by the United Nations.

The initial stage of North Korea’s latest rocket is expected to fall about 140 kilometers off South Korea’s west coast, in international waters between China and South Korea.

The second stage is expected to splash down 190 kilometers east of northern Philippines.

Tabell said state scientists have drawn three possible scenarios on the rocket launch.

Under the first scenario, the entire solid metal booster of the rocket would crash on earth or in the sea.

Another scenario is that the metal booster would break into pieces due to friction.

Under the third scenario, the booster would disintegrate totally.

“The best scenario is for launch not to take place,” Tabell said.

Ramos said 50,000 soldiers from the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command and Southern Luzon Command are ready to assist in emergency situations.

He said military reservists and non-government organizations are also ready to provide assistance.

The areas that may be affected include Buguey, Gonzaga, Santa Ana of Cagayan; Palanan, Maconacon, Divilacan, Dinapigue; Casiguran, Dilasag, Dinalungan, Baler and Dingalan in Aurora; Real, Infanta, Nakar in Quezon, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.

The government will implement a “no-fly zone” over areas along the likely path of North Korea’s rocket from April 12 to 16.

About 100 international flights to and from Japan and South Korea will be affected by the declaration.

The NDRRMC will also enforce a “no sail zone” and “no fishing zone” in waters below the likely path of the rocket.

The areas covered by the declaration are Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur and Catanduanes.

Ramos also lashed out at critics of government’s contingency measures.

“It is better called OA than ‘No A’ or no acting,” he said.

Ramos said he had experienced losing soldiers due to human errors when he was still in the military.

Ramos is a former commander of the Army’s Special Operations Command.

“If you have not experienced losing men, you won’t understand me,” Ramos said, referring to his critics.

“If I do something, you will blame me. If I don’t do anything, you will blame me. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he added.

Robredo called on governors, mayors and other local officials to make sure people and properties are safe from possible debris from North Korea’s rocket.

“Considering that the debris of the missile test might fall in Philippine territory, you are hereby directed to take all precautionary measures to prevent loss of lives and property,” said Robredo in a directive to concerned local officials of Regions I, II, III, IV-A, V, and the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR).

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it will continue to voice the country’s objection to North Korea’s rocket launch even as Malacañang stressed that powerful nations belonging to the six-party talks could best handle the problem.

“We have always maintained that the six-party talks is the most effective means of addressing the North Korea issue. So we agree with Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said in a press briefing.

He said a no-fly zone had been imposed on some areas “because there’s a sliver of sea where the debris is likely to fall, so that’s being anticipated.

“But as (the President) has mentioned, the only time that we will be able to determine is once it is launched,” Lacierda said.

“The DFA and our embassies have strongly articulated to DPRK officials the Philippines’ objection to the launch, which DPRK embassies took note of and reported to Pyongyang,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Raul Hernandez said.

Science Secretary Mario Montejo, for his part, urged the public to remain calm, saying “there’s a remote chance harmful debris from the rocket will hit us.”

“I also can’t see why the North Koreans would load dangerous chemicals unto the rocket — they said this was designed to carry a satellite” he said over dzRH.


File image shows a rendering of the DDG-1000 Zumwalt, the U.S. Navy’s next-generation destroyer, which has been funded to be built at Bath Iron Works in Maine and at Northrop Grumman’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The enormous, expensive and technology-laden warship is viewed as an important part of the United States’ security strategy in the Asia-Pacific. U.S. warships have been deployed amid the forthcoming rocket launch by North Korea.  (AP photo)

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